The Two-Edged Sword of Web 2.0

As web workers, most of us are steeped in Web 2.0 throughout our working day (never mind that we can’t agree on what “Web 2.0″ means). Many of us have embraced online applications from Google, Yahoo, and elsewhere to do the bulk of our work, and we rely on a mishmash of social media sites to stay in touch with our peers and build our extended networks. But this connectivity comes at a cost: the internet is filled with bright, shiny distractions.

Content security firm Clearswift recently tried to quantify the magnitude of the problem with a survey of 827 employees in organizations of 1,000 people and up. Among their findings:

  • 43% of office workers access social media sites from their work computers several times a day
  • 51% spend an hour or more a week on the sites; 13% spend five hours or more
  • 46% have discussed work-related issues on social media sites
  • 46% regularly access Wikipedia during work hours
  • 50% believe they have a right to use work computers for personal internet access

This survey puts numbers on what you probably already know: though we think of the web as a massive productivity enhancer, for some people it’s also a great time sink. This can leave some web workers caught in a contradiction: if you invest effort in the perfect system for getting things done and saving time, only to use up that time again in endless tours of blogs and chats and social sites, have you really gained anything?

Clearswift, of course, would like you to consider their range of policy-based filtering solutions to tackle this problem, and they’re a reasonable alternative for large corporations. But independents and those in small companies might want to think about setting their own personal acceptable use policy for the web. If you feel like your own life is turning into nothing more than an endless treadmill of chasing the latest online trends, consider these tactics:

  • Set aside particular blocks of time for the more distracting activities in your day, instead of letting them intrude constantly. Do you really need to be in constant touch with your e-mail, RSS feeds, photostreams, and Twitter messages?
  • If your day is broken up into major tasks, reward yourself for a task well-done with a session of goofing off. But no cheating: finish the task first!
  • Remember that it’s OK to say no. You don’t have to sign up with the latest cool site just because all the cool kids are doing it.
  • Take some time to evaluate the things you’re doing online “for fun,” and stop doing the ones that aren’t fun any more.

Not everyone who spends an hour surfing the web while at work has a problem, of course. Most of us can decide for ourselves whether we’d like to take back some of that time for other activities. But as with other parts of life, it’s good to make sure you examine your online habits from time to time, lest the internet take over your life without your even noticing.

How do you keep your web working hours productive? Or have you learned to stop worrying and love the social media?

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